FOSTER CHILD DAVENSON CADET prepares to testify during a mock trial boot camp at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Summer Scholars program, which is now in its fifth year.
Encouraged to Dream
Foster children learn as Miami-Dade PD’s ‘Summer Scholars’
In a state-of-the-art courtroom at the Stearns Weaver law firm in Miami, Davenson Cadet straightened his red bow tie, climbed up in the witness stand, and testified as a defense witness, while real judges wearing black robes presided over the mock trial.
He was among a group of foster children, ranging in age from 11 to 18, who participated in the fifth year of the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Summer Scholars program that introduces students to the justice system and spotlights potential careers.
For this summer’s program, Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez partnered with Educate Tomorrow, a nonprofit that provides a holistic program designed to meet the educational, independent living, developmental, and job placement needs of foster youth.
“In the course of over four decades as a member of the Bar, I do not recall a single instance where I was more proud of our profession,” said Gene Stearns, of the Stearns, Weaver, Miller, Weissler, Alhadeff & Sitterson law firm that hosted the mock trial boot camp and farewell luncheon.
“I met with the young people in the morning and saw little hope. I met them at the end of the day and saw something entirely different. Their faces, all beaming brightly, screamed: ‘I can do this!’”
Eleventh Circuit Judges Jennifer Bailey and William Thomas encouraged the students to strive for excellence and pursue their educational dreams.
“No matter what anyone else tells them and regardless of how challenging the obstacles of life appear to be, these young people continue to strive for excellence and find a path forward that gives them a chance for success and happiness,” Judge Thomas said after the mock trial.
“I see the determination in their eyes and I feel it as they speak. I am honored to have witnessed their talent and strength.”
Eighteen-year-old high-school student Karvers Esperance said he discovered that his new dream is to become a judge, after watching Judge Bailey and Judge Thomas in action.
“I had a great time,” Esperance said. “I couldn’t believe how much I learned and how much more social I became. The program felt like conversations with adults that made us feel welcome.”
At the mock trial boot camp, volunteer assistant public defenders prepared the students to do opening statements, cross examination, and closing arguments.
Esperance stood tall as the prosecutor.
“I would like to tell the public defender that his program keeps kids out of jail, in an activity where they come out to learn information that is so helpful, and that the law is not like on TV — all experiences that I will never forget,” Esperance said.
The program reached farther than talking about the law. There was art therapy. There were discussions about gaining financial independence, eating healthy, mindfulness, and saving lives with CPR training.
Fourteen police officers from Key Biscayne, North Miami Beach, Surfside, and the Miami Dade Public Schools joined forces in a nonviolence training program conducted by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Nonviolence Institute.
Frank talks delved into race, perceptions, fear, and encounters with police. They explored how to avoid bad influences and understand the consequences of being arrested.
The City of Miami K-9 Unit and the Miami-Dade Forensics Services Bureau and Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made presentations that captured the kids’ attention.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, brought the legislative process to life with a workshop on how to draft and pass a bill.
“We have to recognize that it is our responsibility to offer all children hope and opportunity, so that they can be encouraged to dream, set strong goals, and plan for their future,” said Miami-Dade Public Defender Martinez.
This year’s program sponsors include Berger Singerman; Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Cole & Bierman; the Key Biscayne Community Foundation; Marcus Neiman & Rashbaum, and Kaufman & Rosin.
For more information about the Summer Scholars Program, contact Mayra Lindsay at [email protected] or Sara Camacho at [email protected].